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Master's Student Explores the Arctic

Last Updated on October 01, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Originally published October 01, 2018

By Julio Ceniceros

Master's student, Environmental Science

Dimly lit with the morning sun, the Arctic Ocean is a place full of peace and mystery. I feel the cold air on my face and each rumble of the sea ice splitting beneath me with the immense weight of the icebreaker steaming at 14 knots deeper into the chilly unknown. I take a moment and take it all in. My eyes get watery with the overwhelming sensation of happiness and curiosity, but I quickly transport myself back to reality when I feel my moist tear ducts starting to freeze with the icy wind. I wonder how it is possible for microscopic bacteria found deep in the ocean to have such huge impacts on the atmosphere above.

Julio Ceniceros
Julio Ceniceros

My love for nature and passion for science have merged while pursuing my master’s degree in environmental science, resulting in one of the most enriching experiences of my life. Hard work and dedication also have granted me the opportunity to become a graduate fellow for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which provides the necessary support to complete my degree and a three-month-long summer internship. During this internship, I spent two months at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. I finished with an Arctic shipborne field study (Ice Nucleation over the Arctic Ocean II) on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the nation’s largest and most technologically advanced icebreaker. 

During my time in Colorado, I learned to analyze and evaluate the concentration and efficiency in which particles found in the ocean surface serve as tiny cloud seeds for forming and growing Arctic ice clouds shortly after becoming airborne. I am now using my newly acquired skills on the Healy to better understand how the ocean and atmosphere interact since observations in the Arctic are sparse and more are needed. The quantifiable results of our investigations will ultimately allow modelers to understand better the dynamic processes between microscopic marine particles and the clouds they affect in the lower atmosphere. Having a better understanding of aerosol-cloud dynamics will reduce long-term climatic uncertainty in the Arctic permitting government officials and local communities to make well-informed decisions about the future Arctic environment. 

As I type and sway back and forth to the rhythm of the waves, I can’t help but feel empowered by this experience and all the knowledge I’ve gained. At the same time, I am also humbled by the sheer magnitude of the ocean and all the mysteries it still holds. The 43-member international team of scientists on board the Healy consists of oceanographers, biologists, ecologists and atmospheric scientists. My exposure to this team has led me to learn new things every single day. I would have never imagined the amount of new knowledge I would have gained over the summer; whether they are collecting mud from the ocean floor, investigating the ecological diversity or examining water collected at multiple depths for chlorophyll concentrations, everyone on board has been extremely approachable and happy to teach an enthusiastic and curious student. 

I wake up every day ready to learn something new, which further solidifies my notion of how I’ve finally found the career to which I want to dedicate my life’s work. Overall, this experience reinvigorated my love for environmental science while providing invaluable early career networking opportunities that will leverage future educational and professional experiences. So much so, I have unquestionably decided to continue my higher education and pursue a Ph.D. shortly after completing my master’s program. I thank everyone who has helped me throughout this amazing journey and will continue to work diligently to epitomize UTEP at the international level.  

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